Yesterday I was reading Solemate by Lauren Mackler. It’s about being alone and what to do about it. In the U.S. there are currently 95.7 million singles, some by choice, others by default. The main reason is a missing husband.
Lauren’s book offers some of the standard ideas for happy singleness: Embracing your aloneness, managing fear, living deliberately, reclaiming your innate wholeness, etc.
What caught my eye was her mention of the work of Carl Rogers. “Humanistic Psychotherapy,” Lauren writes, “focuses on supporting the client’s inherent capacity for growth, rather than dwelling on past events or on the therapist’s ideas of how the client should change. It’s based on the premise that people have within themselves the resources and capacity for self-awareness and development. The goal of this therapy is to create a safe place for that self-discovery and growth to take place.”
A safe place. Of course you know I’m going to tell you that the safest place of all is an artist’s studio. I’ve often looked around mine and said, “This place is my psychotherapist.”
The “studio” need not be anything special. For some it can be just a lounger and box of colour at the bottom of a garden. It always surprises me how seldom apartment dwellers ask their friends with gardens if they can just come down and be there.
When I was in my twenties trying to figure things out, I found a light-speckled, overgrown bower with a tired old gazebo owned by a widow by the name of Ethel Giraud. I told Ethel we didn’t need to talk to each other — I would just be quiet and be there. She was grateful for the garden presence, and let it leak out around the neighborhood that she had an actual artist on the premises. I painted for endless summertime days and processed my thinking on yellow pads.
Carl Rogers (1901-1987) was one of the most influential psychologists of all time. In one of his 14 books, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (1951) he wrote, “The (human) organism has one basic tendency and striving — to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.” Actualizing is the basic building block of creativity, whether it’s building a painting or building a company. To be whole, we need to see things develop in front of us. Digging around in the mind is often informative, but digging right into somewhat joyful work is better.
PS: “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” (Carl Rogers)
Esoterica: An ever-growing number of people living alone find sustenance in creativity. As they age, former cyclists find time for watercolour, former captains of industry tackle the vagaries of acrylic. This focus, though often daunting and even defeating, provides the actualization that embraces and relieves our aloneness. As Lauren Mackler points out, there is no longer a stigma to being on our own. It may even be party to the highest levels of self-realization. All we really need is a safe place to get away with it.
Growth of oneself
by Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley, CA, USA
Building or creating anything reinforces self-realization. Rogers’ idea of growth (building on oneself) is much more positive than trying to “change” oneself, or to dig around in old wounds. As Gandhi said, “In creating, Man creates himself.”
by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA
“Alone” isn’t a dreaded disease one must be cured of or die. Neither men nor women are half people searching the earth like anxious Headless Horsemen, desperate to be whole. We are complete beings with unique attributes. You were given your life calling — it was not meant to be paired.
I’m blessed to live with the love of my life and have worked for, beside, and independently of him. None of those circumstances affected my overall work. I was engaged professionally, socially, and steeped in family, mine and his. I still painted. I still wrote. Those who flounder so horribly after the loss of a loved one are often detached partners lacking a sense of self. A measure of independence is healthy.
A safe place isn’t necessarily a garden gazebo or studio but rather our comfort level in being alone, wherever that is. We are social creatures that deeply need human interaction. It is up to us to make that happen, even though some need more or less of it.
There is great satisfaction in creating. But feeling lost and alone is partially not having the conviction of worth; we want to be valuable to someone. That may translate in serving others or giving of ourselves in a creative work.
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Together bound with hope
by Robert Sesco, Charlottesville, VA, USA
Our art appears to bind us to one another. I think it gives hope to those who fear singing and being off-key, those who fear painting and creating something childish instead of a work of art, those who lack the courage to engage in their own therapy. Our culture certainly does not encourage such things, which promotes working your ass off with all of your Life Minutes for the purpose of counting your money as a score at any point during the process. The Bottom Line is a mean therapist. I think our souls seek beauty to create and to experience, but we sometimes find ourselves standing in the quicksand of an adverse culture. We try to fit in, and we do well at that until 2/3 of our lives are over and we realize that we have paid a great sum for the purpose of fitting in. Therapy is wherever you can find it, and I feel blessed to be part of a long tradition of therapy patients, like a long line of paint-splattered warriors, receding over the horizon, leaving their marks as they go, on an infinite roll of canvas spread out across their easels, that ends in white on our own easels.
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Not a void, but a key
by Nancy Schempp, Bristol, RI, USA
In my religion we learn that we are alone with our own being and with the reality of things. I think this is so important to recognize and to see that “the reality of things” is the key to being able to be alone.
When you talk about going into your “studio” — to me this is where we can close out all that is around us and feel the peace of being alone with God. Of course we then need to have times to share what we are and to enjoy the substance of others, but this aloneness is the food for our soul.
Many people today seem to be afraid to be alone. Even if they have a mate, any time alone becomes threatening to them, particularly with the younger generation. All of the gadgets, the phones, television, computers, all of it has its place, but today is too often used as distractions from simply being alone. To me this is very sad as this being alone with “the reality of things” is the key to our progress, our stability, poise, and is the rudder for our sanity and happiness. How good it is when we learn there is no void — we are never in a void but rather in the glorious reality of God’s, Love’s, ever presence, and as we listen in the silence we hear the most amazing and comforting revelations — truly worth every moment we can spend in this way.
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Studio becomes safe over time
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
My studio wasn’t always my sanctuary. There was a time when it was hell to go into, knowing what was facing me in there. Plus, I had so many unsold works I didn’t relish going in there. But, with time and experience… and sales, it did eventually become my Lieu de solitude.
I can now go there to read, listen to music or just sit and look at what I’ve done lately. I didn’t make a “show place” — I wanted to keep it a working studio. It is clean but not too clean. Things, tools, supplies are out and around so, if the mood strikes, I just have to reach for a stick of charcoal or squeeze out some paint and work.
The Hero within
by Sandra Bos, Cookeville, TN, USA
Some place along the way, I found a safe place, and it came from a song years ago about finding the Hero to save us, and lo and behold it was within ourselves! Life can be very threatening and scary, but when the chips are down, I know I need to go within and find that Hero, and she is stronger than I thought. Thank goodness there have been books from great folks that inspire us.
Maybe the only place that is safe in this world is within oneself.
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Creativity transforms aloneness
by Stede Barber, Los Alamos, NM, USA
Carl Rogers’ message, that people have the wisdom they need within, is an underpinning of the work I’m doing with people now in Soul Art Sessions. Available at our fingertips, I and those I’m working with are discovering that creativity is a built-in highway to a deep, abiding intelligence, wisdom, patience and joy, as we ply paintbrushes, scissors, glue sticks and whatever else we are inspired to work with while creating mixed media pieces, large (8′ tall!) and small (a page in a journal).
The whole idea of “being alone” is transformed while engaged in creativity… a sense of wholeness and fullness takes over… the more, the better.
Safety painting en plein air
by Shari Jones
You speak of being psychologically safe. What about being physically safe? I often paint plein air, sometimes alone, sometimes with a painting buddy. I/we are often in remote areas of the mountains or desert. There have been a couple of time I have felt uneasy with a stranger’s presence. I also know of an artist that was robbed when he was out painting. Do you ever worry about this and am I a bit naive by not considering this issue?
(RG note) Thanks, Shari. I appreciate the dangers of working alone outdoors, particularly for women. My advice for women is to paint with a friend—another woman is fine. From all reports, when one painter is lost in creation, the other painter is paying attention. Painting close to a vehicle is also useful. I’ve noticed that people give you a wider birth when you are next to a car, truck or motor home. Another tip: Don’t line up your work around you as you paint. This makes people think you are having a sale and all kinds of folks come over. Further, without being paranoid, keep your cellphone close at hand.
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Kind of sacred booth
by Valerie Vanorden, Kalamazoo, MI, USA
I rented a booth at the Flea Market and that is kind of a sacred space dedicated to my art. I play a video or two each day that encourages me to pursue my present dream of being an excellent penman. In these pursuits, my husband has learned to not “bother” me while I am “working.” Sometimes he brings me the mail whilst I am penning, and tells me certain comments while I am viewing my video for the 212th time (guessing at numbers, been viewing every day for 2-1/2 years now). But for the most part, he has learned to make himself happy and busy while I am doing pen-work or reading or praying. My dogs have learned, as well, to sleep while I work.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Roxanne Clingman of Milwaukie, OR, USA, who wrote, “Until she remarried a friend of mine, she wore a large button which stated: ‘I used to live alone, then I got divorced.’ ”
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